This Week's Sermon
“God Doesn’t Give Us Scorpions”
Sometimes the disciples are guys you just want to bash over the heads. They can be stubborn, and hot-headed, and downright frustrating. With everything they had seen and experienced in their travels with Jesus, it seems mind-blowing that their doubts and their confusion and their misunderstanding continued to show through. But every once in a while, one of them has a real moment of brilliance. “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” We don’t know which disciple asked the question, but man, what a question. I guess, more of a request. Some might fuss over why this issue wasn’t raised sooner, but who cares? What a fantastic and important question to ask. They saw Jesus in prayer all the time. He was doing it at the beginning of this lesson. And there the disciples sat, watching Jesus deep in prayer, transfixed by what it was they were seeing. They knew prayer was an important part of his life, as it ought to be for theirs. So once he had finished, one bold and brilliant disciple comes forwards: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
And so Jesus does. He gives them a three part lesson on the art of prayer. It’s part one that get’s the most fanfare, of course. The Lord’s Prayer. It just might be the most prayed prayer in the world. We do it every Sunday and for good reason. Because here, Jesus’ lesson is about what to pray for. Pray for the gospel to spread, pray that your needs are met, pray that your sins are forgiven, and pray that you don’t fall into temptation. In fact, these verses are so profound that I could probably preach a sermon on each one of those petitions. I’m not going to today, but there are sermons there waiting to be written.
Then Jesus gives part 2 of his lesson – the story of the man who wakes up his neighbor in the middle of the night asking for bread. I don’t recommend trying to recreate this parable tonight. Your neighbor probably won’t be too happy with you if you do. But the lesson in part 2, the point of this mini-parable, is the when to pray. It’s not about your boldness or persistence, in fact the guy doing the asking is pretty rude here. No, it’s that when you pray to God – whenever you pray to him – God is there to answer. Mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or even the middle of the night – God will hear and answer. When you ask you will receive, when you seek, you will find, whenever you knock, God will be there to open to the door. Then, last but not least, is part 3, the little anecdotes about the father and son. The lesson? It’s what to expect when you pray. That the answer will be good.
So there we have it! Sounds pretty simple, right? In fact, in this rush of confidence, maybe this thought even goes through your head when you read this account: when we pray we will get what we ask for. If you were to walk into some churches, that is almost exactly what you will hear. If I pray for something long enough and hard enough and if my faith is strong enough then absolutely 100% you will get exactly what you want every time. And any failure to receive such a request is on you for not having good enough faith or not wanting enough, I guess. You can shake your head at that and think ‘well, that’s pretty ridiculous,’ and you’d be right! But then again, Ask and it will be given to you. Sure sounds like whatever I ask for I will receive. And to be honest I like the way that sounds. So maybe it doesn’t depend on how hard I pray or how strong my faith is, but still, Ask and ye shall receive…
And we like it because we like results. We’re a results driven society. We have expectations that have to be met. Anything less than exactly what we ask for and we’re filing a complaint to a manager, demanding our money back, or leaving a nasty review on Yelp. So we come into prayer with that results oriented mindset, where we expect and often demand exactly what we ask for, and the results we see don’t match. I know that’s true because if it was, if we really did get exactly what we ask for every single time, then I’d be looking at a bunch of millionaires who are in perfect shape with perfect health, working their dream jobs with perfect relationships.
We’re not always getting what we ask for. And often it seems like we pray for one thing and God sends something bad our way instead. We stretch out our hands asking for an egg and God drops a whole mess of scorpions in our hands instead. What a picture Jesus uses, right? Here in Arizona we’re all too familiar with scorpions. I mean, I’m not yet – the perks of living in a third-floor apartment – but scorpions aren’t guys you want to mess with. They’re bad. You don’t want them in your house and you certainly don’t want to receive one, but it seems like that’s what God does. We pray asking that mom’s health improve when she gets sick and instead we’re getting a call from the doctor saying that she’s gone. You pray for a promotion and instead there’s a pink slip waiting. While those might be extreme examples, you know what I mean. We pray to God for something and the answer we get isn’t good, it’s a big ol’ scorpion. That’s when the frustration sets in. That’s when we get upset and angry. And when that happens? Well, we don’t find ourselves in prayer all that often anymore. After all, it seems like God A) doesn’t care B) enjoys giving me bad things when I pray or C) is way too busy and doesn’t have time to answer at all. So what’s the point?
Maybe we need to look closer at what Jesus is teaching in this lesson. Maybe we need to stop focusing on what we receive and instead do what Jesus does and focus on who is doing the giving. What Jesus is teaching here is that the most important thing to remember when we pray is who we are praying to. This is basically a character study. By recognizing who God is and the kind of prayer-answerer he is we see how to pray – with boldness, confidence, and trust.
See the whole lesson pivots around one word. And it’s really the first word of Jesus’ lesson. “Father.” He instructs his disciples to address God as their Father. He’s not some impersonal, uncaring being who has no time or concern for little puny humans. He’s our Father. That’s as personal a relationship as it gets. Jesus says you’re part of God’s family, so don’t be afraid. Don’t be bashful. Go to your Father.
I mean, just think about how profound that is. You and I get to call God our Father. Were will still in our sin, that wouldn’t be the case. He would be our sentencer. The one who would pronounce a guilty verdict for our sins and cast us away from his sight. But because of Christ, you and I get to approach the almighty, all powerful creator-judge of the universe and call him Father. We get to speak to him as a child speaks to a parent. And God listens will full attention focused squarely on us, with love in his heart because our Savior took our place. He sent Jesus, who was the answer to countless prayers throughout the history of God’s people. From the time Adam and Eve fell into sin all the way up until the moment of his birth, prayer after prayer by person after person. Most of them never saw their prayer answered in their lifetime. Perhaps many of them thought God forgot or didn’t care. Maybe they though that their prayer for the Savior was answered with a scorpion in their hands. But God heard. And he answered with the greatest answer to any prayer. A little baby, who grew into a man, who would die to save the world. All so that you and I can call God our Father.
So this lesson Jesus teaches his disciples and us is perfectly connected to that beautiful truth. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re praying to our perfect Father who keeps his promises. The Lord’s Prayer is nothing more than praying God’s promises right back to him. Because not only is he our Father, but he’s faithful and true to his Word. What he promises, he follows through on. And his promises are always good. The parable of the man asking for bread shows us that our Father is there to listen and answer whenever we pray to him. At any hour, on any day, rain or shine. God’s there to answer. And the illustrations about the father and child show us that God’s answers are always good. There is never a scorpion coming from God. Because that’s not how a perfect father answers prayers.
Now, that doesn’t mean we will always get what we want. Parents, do you always give their child exactly what they ask for? Our Father works the same way. He lovingly listens to every prayer and he answers every one too. But because he’s a perfect Father, he knows what’s best. Sometimes what’s best is exactly what we pray for. Sometimes it’s not. But the answer he gives won’t ever be a scorpion. It won’t be something bad. It’s just not always what we expect. Sometimes we might even think it’s bad at first. But God has the whole picture and he always has your best interests in mind – whether that be physical or spiritual. So no, just because you ask that you win the lottery, that doesn’t mean you’re going to win. Maybe if you win God knows that money will pull you further away from him. But playing that kind of hypothetical game isn’t worth doing. We don’t get to see the whole picture like God does. Maybe we don’t see the answer for years and years. But it’s always good. Because we have a perfect Father. And he doesn’t give us scorpions.
So go to God in prayer. Be bold and confident. Trust that God will not only hear you, but he’s there answering too. And when we get frustrated because it seems like God isn’t listening, doesn’t care, or is giving us something bad, return to these Words. Listen to your Savior’s lesson: remember who it is you’re praying to: he’s good. He’s perfect. And he always has your best interests in mind.